The crypto wars are back in full swing.
Spindrift, maker of fizzy soda and sparkling water, has raised $29.8 million in a funding round, per an SEC filing. The Charlestown, Mass. company was founded by Bill Creelman and has raised $70 million in known venture capital funding to date, per Crunchbase data.
The company did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Previous investors in the fizzy drink company include Almanac Insights, KarpReilly, Prolong Ventures, VMG Partners and more. Spindrift, founded in 2010, is up against big players, like the beloved and decades-old LaCroix, another sparkling water brand. Spindrift differentiates itself by emphasizing “real fruit” in its drinks. Think cucumbers from Michigan, strawberries from California and Alfonso mangoes from India. A day prior to the filing, Spindrift launched its pineapple flavor.
(In a quick aside looped up with a word we haven’t heard in a while: The company also offered a Golden Pineapple sweepstakes, where 13 winners will get a year’s-supply of free Spindrift and a custom mini-fridge).
Now, it’s worth mentioning that in San Francisco’s Marina district is another fruit-infused direct to consumer brand, sans the bubbles. Hint, founded in 2005 by Kara Goldin, has raised $26.5 million to date from The Perkins Fund and Verlinvest to produce naturally flavored fruit-essence water.
Today, Spindrift raised more than Hint’s total funding in one fell swoop, and both brands, alongside the age-old LaCroix, are synonymous with startup culture and recycling bins. And that tells us that at least according to investors, the future of water is far from, ahem, drying up.
Another afternoon, another round of funding for a mobile banking app. This time, it’s Empower Finance, a San Francisco-based company that’s headed up by former Sequoia Capital partner Warren Hogarth and which just closed on $20 million in Series A funding from Icon Ventures and Defy Ventures.
David Velez, who is the founder and CEO of Nubank, the largest fintech in Latin America, also joined the round.
We’d first written about the company in 2017, when Hogarth was just getting the business off the ground. Fast-forward a bit and Empower now employs 35 people and has attracted more than 600,000 active users to its platform, says Hogarth. What has drawn them in: the company’s promise of combining AI and actual human financial planners to help millennials in particular accrue some wealth, including, more newly, through its own checking account product and through a savings account that’s currently promising 1.60% in annual percentage yield with no minimums, no overdraft fees and unlimited withdrawals.
It’s all part of an overall offering that crunches through account holders’ bank and credit card accounts, and recommends how much they save into which account, how much they should spend given their overall picture, various ways they can cut costs and where and when they’ve surpassed their pre-configured budgets.
Of course, the company has so much competition it’s dizzying, but like the various upstarts against which it’s battling for mindshare, the opportunity that Empower is chasing is enormous, too. Though companies like Chime can seem overpriced given how fast investors have marked up their rounds — Chime’s newest financing, announced in December, was done at a $5.8 billion post-money valuation, which was four times more than the company was worth at the outset of 2019 — digital banks are still tiny fish in an ocean of institutional financial services, representing something like 3% of the market.
They’re gaining more market share by the day, too, including by charging far lower fees for much more.
In Empower’s case, users pay $6 a month, but Hogarth says they also save $300 a year in additional fees they would pay a brick-and-mortar bank. He insists that on average, it also helps them save $1,300 more annually, too.
As for all those other companies — Mint, Acorns, the list goes on — Hogarth sounds surprisingly sanguine. “If you look at it from the outside, it looks crowded. But the consumer financial services in the U.S. is a $2 trillion business, and we haven’t had a fundamental shift since maybe Schwab came along 30 years ago.”
Indeed, says Hogarth, because Empower and its rivals are mobile and branchless and don’t have legacy software to contend with, they’re able to take 60 to 70% of the cost structure out of the business.
What that means on an individual company level is that even if each upstart can attract 2 to 3 million customers, they can get to a multibillion-dollar market cap. At least, that kind of math is “why there’s so much interest in this space,” says Hogarth.
It’s also why people like Nubank’s Velez, who have seen this story play out in Europe and Latin America and who are seeing the early phases of it in the U.S., are apparently keeping the money spigot open for now.
Empower had earlier raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Sequoia, followed by a $4.5 million round led by Initialized Capital.
Social networks are in for a rude copyright awakening. A new European Union law called Article 17 essentially eradicates safe harbor and requires that they’ve made their “best effort” to get licenses from rights holders for all content on their platform. If a user uploads a video with a popular song in the background, tech platforms can’t just take it down if requested. They’ll be liable if they didn’t already try to get permission.
That’s good news for musicians and film producers who are more likely to get paid. But it could hurt influencers and creators whose clips and remixes might be blocked or have their revenue diverted. It will certainly be a huge headache for content sharing sites.
That’s where Pex comes in. The profitable royalty attribution startup founded in 2014 scans social networks and other user generated content sites for rightsholders’ content. Pex then lets them negotiate licensing with the platforms, request a take down, demand attribution, and/or track the consumption statistics. It’s collected a database of over 20 billion audio and video tracks found on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter and more. It’s like an independent YouTube ContentID.
Today that business gets a big boost as Pex is acquiring Dubset, which has spent 10 years tackling the problem of getting remixes and multi-song DJ sets legalized for streaming on services like Spotify to some success. The $11.3 million-funded Dubset does fingerprinting of 45 million tracks from over 50,000 rights holders down to the second so the artists behind the source material get paid.
Pex has come a long way from when CEO Rasty Turek tried build a Shazam for video. “It took me years to figure out how to do it technically, but there was no market for it” he tells me. Turns out that the technology was perfect for spotting illegal usage of copyrighted songs.
Now Pex will gain Dubset’s connections to tons record labels and other rightsholders in what two sources close to the deal says is an acquisition priced between $25 million and $50 million. “There are very few companies in the music business that have successfully licensed as much catalog as Dubset, and the music rights database they’ve built is massive and rare” Pex CEO Rasty Turek tells TechCrunch exclusively before the deal’s formal announcement tomorrow.
Together, they’ll be pushing Pex’s new Attribution Engine that establishes a three-sided marketplace for content. Instead of just working with rightsholders, the fresh tech can plug directly into big platforms and instantly identify copyrighted audio and visual files as short as one second. It can even suss out cover versions of songs via melody matching, as well as compressed, cropped, and modified variations. Creators can also use it to ensure the source material they’re remixing or turning into memes is given proper attribution or a cut of revenue.
The Attribution Engine earns money by facilitating the licenses and payments between platforms, rightsholders, and creators. It’s free to register content with the service as well as for platforms to perform
The Attribution Engine is free for rightsholders to register their content and free for platforms to run identification scans on what’s uploaded to them. using our asset lookup service. The hope is that by creating a simpler path to cooperation and revenue sharing, more rightsholders will make their content accessible for use on social networks or in remixes. It could also grant platforms protection from Article 17 liability since they’ll be able to say that Pex made it best effort to get content usage approval from rights holders.
“Basically every platform in the world that operates in the EU will have to identify all copyrighted content on their platform as it comes in or go back and identify all of it” says Dubset chief strategy office Bob Barbiere. “Dubset was really built to serve at the DJ or content creator level . . . doing it purely for the purposes of mix and remix content. Pex does it in a much bigger way for the platforms.”
For up-and-coming platforms like TikTok competitors Dubsmash or Triller, Pex’s business model is a gift. They don’t have to pay for the ID service until they’re ready to cut licensing deals with rightsholders when Pex adds a fee on top. Trying to build this stuff from scratch could be slow and hugely expensive, given YouTube’s still perfecting its ContentID system eight years in.
Pex will have to manage the careful balance of staying ahead of regulation but not so far that it’s building technology people won’t need for a long time. European Union states have until June 21st 2021 to implement Article 17 with local laws. “We don’t want others to out-innovate us, but we also don’t want to out-innovate ourselves out of existence by being too early and then waiting for the market to catch up to us” Rasty explains.
The internet needs this kind of infrastructure because we’re still at the beginning of the age of the remix. TikTok has proven how recontextualizing a song or vocal track with new visuals can create chains of jokes and content that go massively viral. The app productizes the Harlem Shake phenomenon, whereby people promote their own takes on a piece of content, drawing attention to the original and all the other versions. But these webs of remixes could be severed if platforms and rightsholders can’t forge licensing agreements.
“I hope that thanks to Pex, 20 years from now people will not have to think about copyright” Turek concludes. “Any content they produce and distribute on the open internet will be automatically attributed to them and generate revenue if they so choose.” That could allow more people to turn their passion for creation into their profession, whether they’re building an app, writing a song, or remixing a song into a meme for an app.
The company’s recent launches focused on improving its support for AI, high-performance computing and accelerated computing workloads, which is surely what Nvidia is most interested in here.
“Building AI supercomputers is exciting to the entire SwiftStack team,” says the company’s co-founder and CPO Joe Arnold in today’s announcement. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to work with the talented folks at NVIDIA and look forward to contributing to its world-leading accelerated computing solutions.”
The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but SwiftStack had previously raised about $23.6 million in Series A and B rounds led by Mayfield Fund and OpenView Venture Partners. Other investors include Storm Ventures and UMC Capital.
SwiftStack, which was founded in 2011, placed an early bet on OpenStack, the massive open-source project that aimed to give enterprises an AWS-like management experience in their own data centers. The company was one of the largest contributors to OpenStack’s Swift object storage platform and offered a number of services around this, though it seems like in recent years it has downplayed the OpenStack relationship as that platform’s popularity has fizzled in many verticals.
SwiftStack lists the likes of PayPal, Rogers, data center provider DC Blox, Snapfish and Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent company) on its customer page. Nvidia, too, is a customer.
SwiftStack notes that it team will continue to maintain an existing set of open source tools like Swift, ProxyFS, 1space and Controller.
“SwiftStack’s technology is already a key part of NVIDIA’s GPU-powered AI infrastructure, and this acquisition will strengthen what we do for you,” says Arnold.
Founded in 2005, Etsy was born before cloud infrastructure was even a thing.
As the company expanded, it managed all of its operations in the same way startups did in those days — using private data centers. But a couple of years ago, the online marketplace for crafts and vintage items decided to modernize and began its journey to the cloud.
That decision coincided with the arrival of CTO Mike Fisher in July 2017. He was originally brought in as a consultant to look at the impact of running data centers on Etsy’s ability to innovate. As you might expect, he concluded that it was having an adverse impact and began a process that would lead to him being hired to lead a long-term migration to the cloud.
That process concluded last month. This is the story of how a company born in data centers made the switch to the cloud, and the lessons it offers.
Stuck in a hardware refresh loop
When Fisher walked through the door, Etsy operated out of private data centers. It was not even taking advantage of a virtualization layer to maximize the capacity of each machine. The approach meant IT spent an inordinate amount of time on resource planning.
As streamers become mainstream celebrities, major fashion brands are itching to cash in.